Understanding and living with food allergies.
Food allergies have been on the rise during the last three decades, and according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, approximately five percent of children and four percent of adults in the United States are affected. Simply put, a food allergy is when a specific food causes the immune system to trigger a reaction.
While nearly any food can create an adverse reaction for some, the following eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies:
• Hen’s eggs
• Cow’s milk
• Tree nuts
CERTAIN FOOD ALLERGIES, such as eggs, dairy, soy and wheat, tend to fade after a few years of food avoidance. On the other hand, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish tend to be lifelong. Risks for food allergies increase if there is a family history particularly with biological parents or siblings. People with asthma or atopic dermitis are also at a higher risk for developing food allergies.
Allergy symptoms range from minor to life threatening and can affect many different areas of the body. Symptoms might include, but are not limited to, reddening or itchy skin, chest tightness, wheezing, swollen tongue, nausea or vomiting. However, don’t assume you have a food allergy without a proper evaluation by a health care professional just because you experience symptoms.
Food allergies should be considered if a person experiences anaphylaxis (a rapidly progressing, severe and life-threatening allergic reaction) or other symptoms within minutes to hours of ingesting food, especially with young children. Allergies might also be present if a person has experienced symptoms several times after ingesting a specific food.
The two most common tests used to diagnose food allergies are the skin prick test (SPT) and allergen-specific IgE (sIgE) testing. Skin prick tests are used most often to help diagnose or confirm a food allergy. Skin prick tests are inexpensive and results are available immediately. The sIgE test detects the presence of sIgE antibodies. Diagnosis should not be made by SPT or sIgE testing alone but should be used in correlation with your medical history. Elimination diets and oral food challenges are also frequently used to help diagnose allergies.
Dietary restrictions and avoiding foods with specific allergens are the primary way to manage food allergies. If you have a food allergy, learning how to interpret listed ingredients and recognizing food allergen labeling is beneficial. Medications, such as antihistamines, are used to manage symptoms, and epinephrine is the first-line treatment in anaphylaxis.
Unfortunately, there are currently no recommended medications to prevent food allergies. For children, The National Institute of Allergy and Asthma does not recommend restricting diet as a strategy for preventing food allergies, nor does it recommend delaying the introduction of solid foods or potentially allergic foods until after four to six months of age. In fact, recent peanut allergy research encourages early introduction to peanut-containing
products to infants who might be at a higher risk. Delaying the introduction of peanuts is actually associated with increased risk of acquiring an allergy.
Living with food allergies can present a challenge, but if you have an allergy, you have many resources and healthcare professionals available to help. Over the past few years, the number of allergen-free foods available have grown significantly.
If you’d like to learn more about food allergies and living with a food allergy, here’s a list of helpful resources.
CIAF (Cook It Allergy Free)
iEatOut Gluten Free & Allergen Free
Ian’s Natural Foods
Beckmann’s Old World Bakery
Jennifer Anderson, RD, LD, CDE, is a nutritionist at Boone Hospital in Columbia.